Necessary, essential, vital – three words that we use interchangeably, but which have quite distinct meanings.
The necessary in a situation is the barest form of what’s needed, what we cannot do without. When we attend to what’s necessary we make sure that what we rely upon keeps going, that it does not fall apart.
What’s essential is to do with the essence of things – what is most true and particular to the situation at hand. There are many different ways of attending to what’s necessary, but attending to what’s essential in a situation calls on us bring exquisite sensitivity and a willingness to look and feel behind surface appearances. The essential requires saying no to many things in order to respond with beauty and precision to just what’s called for now and here.
And what’s vital is to do with what has vitality, that which is life giving – not what’s merely necessary, nor even what’s only essential, but what will breathe life into ourselves, into others, and into the matter at hand.
Too often, by conflating these different meanings, we do our work (or live our lives) in a flat way – busily or dutifully doing what is necessary and no more. But how much that is artful, beautiful, dignified, life-giving and joyful we could bring about if we were to pay equal attention to the essence of things and the life of things – the essential and the vital – and to the essence and life of the people around us too.